Special Sighting: A Crested Caracara at Bear Mountain

The following is a personal account of a Crested Caracara sighting by Ed McGowan, the Director of Science and the Trailside Museums and Zoo for the Palisades Interstate Park Commission:

Bear Mountain State Park, Doodletown – Jan 5, 2015 – Normally a time of year when New Yorkers head south, on this blustery winter day a Floridian made a rare visit to the skies over Bear Mountain State Park. Fellow League of Naturalists volunteers Gerhard Patsch, Dave Baker, Mike Adamovic, and I watched in amazement as a Crested Caracara soared overhead in the late morning sun. The bird circled several times, drifted north out of view but then returned overhead before heading east towards the Hudson. The field markings and overall gestalt of the bird were unmistakable. To our knowledge, this is the first record of a Caracara in New York State. We later learned that one of these southern raptors was photographed in Berks County, PA just a week earlier, so perhaps our sighting was the same bird blown north by the previous day’s violent winds. Wherever it came from, it was a sight to behold, a tropical apparition on a brisk winter’s day.

crested caracara wikicommons
By Manjith Kainickara (Flickr: Crested Caracara) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
 Post by Ed McGowan.

Read about the Crested Caracara sighting in Berks County, Pennsylvania. 


Snow Birds: New York’s Winter Bird Population

There are many species of birds that do not migrate to warmer or more temperate climates, but remain to take advantage of available local food sources.

For some of these smaller birds, specifically chickadees, spending the winters here in the frigid Northeast is possible due to a short-term hibernation state called torpor. During this period, energy expenditure is reduced due to exposure to extreme cold, food shortages, or severe droughts. Throughout this process of thermoregulation (maintenance or regulation of internal body temperature), metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate are decreased in order to help conserve energy and maintain body heat during the harsh winter months.

All of our fine feathered friends depend on specific habitats to obtain food and provide a safe place to nest and nurture their young. By protecting and conserving a wide range of habitats throughout our State Parks, we are ensuring the health and viability of New York State’s resident bird populations.

OPRHP has partnered with Audubon New York in efforts to enhance awareness regarding the conservation of state priority birds within designated New York State Parks. The “Audubon in the Parks” initiative concentrates its efforts on maintaining and conserving essential habitat in Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs) and Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for the over 300 bird species that reside on Park lands.

Currently, 67 out of the 136 IBA sites that have been identified in New York State are located inside our Parks, and 25 out of 59 statewide designated BCA’s also fall within park boundaries. These programs provide activities ranging from bird walks to data entry, and even larger habitat restoration projects.

This joint partnertship fosters public engagement through outreach, environmental interpretation, and habitat restoration in several NYS Parks. In addition, this initiative encourages members, volunteers, birders, and  “citizen scientists”  to participate in these programs by identifying, monitoring, and conserving essential bird habitat.

Audubon New York and OPRHP are focused on restoring and improving existing bird habitats in State Parks with designated bird BCAs and IBAs sites through partnerships, education, and habitat improvement efforts.

Below are examples of some winter birds commonly found in New York State that you might see in our State Parks. Most commonly you will find these birds perched in a tree, gliding over a open field or even enjoying a snack at your backyard feeder.


The term passerine refers to perching song birds. The vocalists of the bird world, these birds have a repertoire of song, calls and voices; each used for specific  purposes. All members of this group have similar physical characteristics. The foot of a passerine has three toes facing  forward and one toe directed backwards, which allows them to hang on to tree branches, reeds or any vertical surface. These common bird species can often be heard and seen visiting backyard feeders.

Chickadee black-capped 2-6-05 - 0012
Black-capped chickadee.


Black-capped Chickadee: Poecile atricapilla

Habitat: Common to mixed wooded areas. Mixed wooded refers to tree species that shed their leaves annually (deciduous) and evergreens or conifers (coniferous).

Diet: Mostly seeds, insects, spiders, berries and small fruit.

Auditory recognition: Chickadee dee dee dee.

Identifying characteristics: Small and fluffy with distinguishing black cap and throat, and white cheeks.

Cardinal close 3-5-05 - 0039
Northern cardinal


Northern Cardinal: Cardinalis cardinalis

Habitat: Commonly found in brushy areas next to the edges of woods.

Diet: Seeds, fruit and insect larvae.

Auditory recognition: Teeooo, teeeooo, whoit whoit whoit.

Identifying characteristics: Both have large triangular shaped bills. Male cardinals have bright red plumage with a black face and red bill. Females have reddish-brown plumage and red-orange bill.

Tufted Titmouse-Photo Taken by Lilly Schelling
Tufted titmouse, photo by Lilly Schelling.


Tufted Titmouse: Baeolophus bicolor

Habitat: Commonly found in mature deciduous (shed leaves annually) wooded areas.

Diet: Mainly seeds and insects.

Auditory recognition: Peter peter peter peter.

Identifying characteristics: Pale grey color with orange flanks, small pointed grey crest, black forehead and a broad tail.

Tree Sparrow  close 3-5-05 - 0037
American tree sparrow.


American Tree Sparrow: Spizella arborea

Habitat: Brushy or weedy areas in proximity to trees, open fields, woodland edges, marshes, and suburban areas.

Diet: Seeds from grasses and plants, few insects and berries.

Auditory recognition: A series of high-pitched sweet whistles and trills. Swee swee ti sidi see zidi zidi zew.

Identifying characteristics: Bicolored bill, white bands on wings and a dark spot on center of chest area.

Dark Eyed Junco post 3-5-05 - 0052
Dark-eyed junco


Dark- Eyed Junco: Junco hyemalis

Habitat: Common to open woodland and brushy areas, along the roadside and at backyard feeders.

Diet: Mainly seeds and insects. Usually seen foraging on the ground beneath feeders.

Auditory recognition: High-pitch trill resembling the ring of an old rotary dial phone.

Identifying characteristics: Grey to grey-brown in color, pale pinkish-white bill, white underbelly, and white outer tail feathers.


All species of Woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers which are used like props, allowing the birds to cling to tree bark while in search of food. Another common characteristic that is shared among woodpeckers is a strong chisel like bill which is used to tap and excavate insects from beneath the bark of trees. They are the percussionists in the world of birds. During a walk in a State Park, Woodpeckers can often be heard tapping on trees as they look for insects to eat.

Downy Woodpecker very close vertical best master
Downy Woodpecker


Downy Woodpecker (Smallest Woodpecker in North America): Picoides pubescens

Habitat: Common to deciduous wooded areas consisting of patches of smaller trees and brush.

Diet: Variety of insects (beetles, ants, gall wasps and caterpillars), seeds, berries.

Auditory recognition: High-pitch whinny with a distinctive high-pitched pik.

Identifying characteristics: Both males and females have a white patch on their back and white spots on their wings. Only males have a red patch on the back of their heads, females do not have this added patch of color.

Pileated Woodpecker-Photo Taken by Lilly Schelling
Pileated woodpecker, photo by Lilly Schelling.


Pileated Woodpecker (Largest Woodpecker in North America): Dryocopus pileatus

Habitat: Mature hardwood and mixed forests and woodlots.

Diet: Creates a distinctive oval or rectangular hole while foraging on dead trees and logs searching for carpenter ants, termites, larvae of wood-boring beetles, other various insects.

Auditory recognition: Series of 6-8 high-pitched wuks. Wuk, wuk-wuk-wuk, wuk-wuk.

Identifying characteristics: Large in size with a long neck, black plumage on wings, chest and back, notable red crest, and white patch on underside of wings.


Owls belong to the Raptor family, also commonly known as birds of prey. Due to their carnivorous appetites which consists of small mammals (rabbits, moles, ground sqirrels, and mice), these skilled and efficient hunters have razor sharp talons, a hooked beak with sharp edges, acute eyesight, and distinctive facial disks which allow them to search for prey.

Snow Owl_Lilly Schelling
Snowy Owl, photo by Lilly Schelling


Snowy Owl (Heaviest Owl): Bubo scandiacus

Habitat: Perches on ground or fence posts in open fields and marshes.  Snowy owls migrate to New York State from Canada and Alaska (also known as the Taiga region of North America).

Diet: Often hunts during the day for small rodents and birds in open fields. Have been known to feed on prey as large as geese.

Auditory recognition: Brooo brooo brooo.

Identifying characteristics: Large and sleek, mostly all white plumage. Face and underwing always white.

Barred Owl-Photo Taken by Lilly Schelling
Barred owl, photo by Lilly Schelling.


Barred Owl: Strix varia

Habitat: Prefers hardwood swamps, woodlands or mature forests consisting of both evergreen and deciduous trees in close proximity to water, and wooded river bottoms.

Diet: Most active at night but has been known to hunt for small mammals and rodents during the day in fields and forests.

Auditory recognition: Hoo hoo ho-ho, hoo hoo ho-hooooooooaar (“who cooks for you”, “who cooks for you-all”).

Identifying characteristics: Brown in color with lighter spots, wings and tail barred brown and white, bold streaks on chest and distinguishing dark eyes.

Barn Owl-Photo Taken by Lilly Schelling
Barn owl, photo by Lilly Schelling.


Barn Owl: Tyto alba

Habitat: Woodlands, groves, farmland, marshes, and cliffs.  Prefer to nest in old barns and man-made structures.

Diet: Hunts at night in search of small mammals and rodents (voles, mice, small rats, shrews, and juvenile rabbits).

Auditory recognition: Shiiish or kschh (screech).

Identifying characteristics: Long legs, pale tawny and white plumage with dark eyes surrounded by a white heart shaped border.

Even in the wintertime, these birds depend on specific habitats to obtain food and provide a safe place to nest and nurture their young. By protecting and conserving a wide range of habitats throughout State Parks, OPRHP is ensuring the health and viability of New York State’s resident bird populations.

For more information on the birds depicted here and additional species:

Audubon New York

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Click here for more information about Audubon in the Park.

Click here for more information about Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs) and Important Bird Areas (IBAs) within New York State Parks.


Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. 2003. New York.

Peterson, Roger Tory. Peterson Field Guides: A Field Guide The Birds of Eastern and Central America. 1980. New York.

Nature Instruct. Dendroica: An aid to identifying Western Hemisphere birds. 2013. USGS. Web.

Post by Melyssa Smith.




Ice Fishing in Central New York

Every winter, thousands of anglers take to New York’s frozen waters in quest of their ice fishing bounty.  Ice fishing can be a relatively easy and inexpensive way for the entire family to enjoy some mid-winter outdoor fun.  Terrific ice fishing opportunities can be found within or in close proximity to many state parks; with several free fishing clinics and derbies occurring each year that introduce new ice fishing anglers to the sport.  Chances are one of these hard water fishing opportunities is close to you!

Anna&IzzyHughes Jan 18 2015 Tully
Tom’s (the author’s) 6-year-old daughters Anna and Izzy Hughes caught their first fish through the ice from Tully Lake on January 18, 2015. They worked together to land two pickerel, which they later had for dinner that night.


2013 Glimmerglass Stephanie Smith pickerel
Former OPRHP Park & Recreation Aide Stephanie Smith landed this chain pickerel near Glimmerglass State Park in 2013 fishing with a tipup baited with a golden shiner.


Ice fishing does not require a lot of expensive gear to get started, especially compared to other winter sports like skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.  Unlike open water fishing, you don’t need a boat to get out on the water…just a nice pair of insulated winter boots.  Once out there, you can use all sorts of tools to get through the ice to access your fish, including axes, ice spuds, augers and power augurs.  Fishing techniques include actively fishing with small jigging rods or setting tipups (fish traps) rigged with live bait (e.g., shiners or suckers).  Many types of fish are active and feeding under the ice throughout the winter months, including bass, pike, walleye, trout and panfish.

2014 Tom Hughes northern pike Owasco
OPRHP Natural Resource Steward Biologist Tom Hughes (author) shows off a northern pike caught from Owasco Lake. Believe it or not – every season, pike twice as large as this fish are hauled through the ice from Delta Lake near Delta Lake State Park, near Rome!


To learn all about the basics of ice fishing and what you will need to get started, visit the NYS DEC webpage for “Ice Fishing Basics.”

When you feel you are ready and dressed appropriately for New York’s winter weather, come out and join our OPRHP and NYS DEC staff and volunteers at an ice fishing clinic or derby near you!

Coming up in February, there are two ice fishing clinics scheduled for Central New York – February 22, 2017 at Otsego Lake, Glimmerglass State Park and February 26, 2017 at Lakeland Park (Cazenovia Lake), Cazenovia.  Both clinics are free fishing day events, with no fishing license required for participants.  For more information on the 8th annual ice fishing clinic at Glimmerglass, call 607-547-8662 or visit the State Parks calendar.  For more information about the ice fishing clinic at Lakeland Park, contact Judy Gianforte, Cazenovia Preservation Foundation, 315-877-1742.

Click below to watch a video of Anna & Izzy Hughes catching their pickerel. (Note: You must be using Internet Explorer in order for the video to stream properly).

Click below to see another angler Derek Conant from Otisco catching his first fish through ice on Otisco Lake.

Post by Tom Hughes, photos by Tom Hughes and Matt Fendya, videos by Tom Hughes.

Winter Tree Identification Part I: Deciduous Trees

In the summer you can recognize the different kinds of trees from the shape and size of their leaves. When trees drop their leaves in the winter months you can use different characteristics such as bud shape, leaf arrangement, bark, and overall growth pattern to identify tree species. As an example, let’s learn how you can identify Red Maple, Green Ash, and Black Walnut. First let’s learn some basic terms!

We will start with leaf or bud arrangement on the stem which will be either “alternate” or “opposite”. The buds are where next year’s leaves will emerge from and the nodes are where the leaf or bud attaches to the stem.

Alternate leaf arrangement is when there is one leaf per node.
Opposite leaf arrangement is when there are leaves per node (across from one another).









Leaf Scar
The leaf scar is another important characteristic to look at. This is where the leaf fell off the stem during autumn. Some trees, like the Black Walnut, have very distinctive leaf scars. Their leaf scar resembles a fuzzy smiley face!

Now we area ready to learn some tree species!


We will start with Green Ash. First let’s look at the bark and growth pattern:

Ash LS Final

Green ash is typically very straight with a single trunk. The branches usually grow from the top of the tree, not from the sides. The bark is greyish in color with thin furrowed ridges forming an intersecting diamond pattern. Green ash is found growing in lowland areas.



Now we will look at the characteristics of the twig:Ash LS Notice how the leaf buds are rounded and in an opposite arrangement at the leaf node. The leaf scar is shaped like a half moon or an upside-down “D”. The stem is grey in color and the buds are a dark greyish-brown. There is one bud at the apex, or tip of the stem. White ash is very similar, but the leaf scar has a v-shaped notch on the top and the twigs tend to be gray-green.


Red Maple Tree LS Final

Red maples vary in growth pattern. They may grow with a straight trunk or multi branched; like the tree in this picture. Bark is greyish-brown with a thin flaky appearance. Younger trees look smooth, the “plating” or flaky appearance, increases with age. Red maples often grow in swamps but are common in uplands too.


Red Maple KS final

Red maples have opposite leaf arrangement. Flower buds usually form high up in the canopy and not on lower branches. Once the flowers have bloomed, leaves will replace them on the same node. The leaf and flower buds are reddish in color, as is the stem itself. The leaf buds are pointed and there is one terminal leaf bud.


Black Walnut Tree Final

Black walnut trees have a wide branching growth pattern. The bark is dark brown, becoming darker with age. The bark has deeper furrowed ridges than ash, with looser intersecting ridges. Also evident is the dropped compound leaf stalks* underneath the tree. Black walnut trees are found growing in well drained, lowland areas.

*A compound leaf (such as on ash and walnut) has multiple leaflets on the leaf stalk. See below.
Compound leaf

Simple Leaf

Black walnuts have alternate leaf arrangement with a large terminal bud. The buds are fuzzy and light gray in color. The leaf scar is large compared to the bud. The pith (spongy tissue in the center of the stem) is distinctly chambered. This can be seen by carefully taking a sharp blade and cutting the stem in half, as shown in the image below.

Black Walnut LS

Learn more about identifying winter trees in the Winter Tree Identification Part II: Evergreen Trees and Winter Greens blogs.

Post and photos by Lilly Schelling.


Take a Friend Snowmobiling Day

Want to learn how you can explore New York’s more than 10,000 miles of snowmobile trails this winter? The New York State Snowmobile Association and Grafton Trail Blazers snowmobile club are teaming up with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation at the Grafton Lakes State Park 30th Annual Winter Festival Saturday, January 24th, for “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” day.  The event is a demonstration of the basics of snowmobile operation and ownership.

The New York State snowmobile trail system crisscrosses 45 counties through woods, fields, towns and our State Parks.  Snowmobiling is a fun, family-friendly way to enjoy winter scenery and wildlife, especially for those with physical conditions or disabilities preventing more strenuous activities like skiing and snowshoeing.  The “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” event is a great introduction to the sport for new riders or reintroduction for those who haven’t been on a snowmobile in years, and an opportunity for current snowmobilers to meet and share their interests.

Representatives from the New York State Parks Snowmobile Unit, the State Snowmobile Association, and the Grafton Trail Blazers snowmobile club will be on hand to answer all of your snowmobiling questions and provide short demonstration rides, conditions permitting.

The event will be held at the playground near the main parking lot from 11:00am to 3:00pm.  Necessary equipment will be provided, but participants are urged to dress appropriately for outdoor weather conditions.  Anyone age 16 and older is welcome to join (if conditions permit snowmobile operation, youth ages 16-17 must have a valid safety certificate to operate). Another “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” event will be held at Delta Lake State Park on February 8th, with more details to be announced.

_PRK9401 (2)
Jim MacFarland and Bennett Campbell from the OPRHP Snowmobiling Unit hit the trails near Old Forge.

Click here to view the full Winter Festival schedule of events.

Click here for more information on other Take a Friend Snowmobiling events. 

Click here to visit the NYS Parks website for more information about snowmobiling in New York, including a free Snowmobiler’s Guide.

NYSOPRHP recommends all snowmobilers attend a certified New York State snowmobiling safety course, and never drink & ride!

Post by Bennett Campbell, photo by John Rozell.

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